Defense is the name of the game for the Milwaukee Bucks. The trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook and Robin Lopez protect the rim like none other in the NBA. And it is their lock-down defense that has the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals and Milwaukee fans dreaming of the title.
Giannis and co. were outstanding on defense in the regular season, allowing teams to shoot just 47% in the paint. That was a whopping 10% lower on layups, dunks and power moves than the NBA’s average shooting percentage during the season. In this age of “We love layups, free throws and we like 3s”, Giannis and the Lopez brothers are making NBA analytics teams rethink their strategy when they face the Bucks, who averaged 6 blocks a game before the Corona pandemic. The 47% is not only the best percentage in the NBA this season but it’s the best in the league in the past 20 years.
Basketball is famously a game of give and take. For the Bucks, their game is taking away shots in the paint and giving whenever possible opposing centers space to take three-pointers. In the regular season, Milwaukee allowed the third-most uncovered off catch shots without a dribble. The problem for Bucks’ opponents is that it hasn’t been the likes of JJ Reddick, Seth Curry or Duncan Robinson taking those shos but the Myles Turners, Domantas Sabonises and Joel Embiids of the NBA.
After compiling the best record in the East before Corona hit, the Bucks were rusty upon arrival in the bubble. The focus was there in knocking off Boston in the first game, but Milwaukee went 2-5 in the other non-playoff games – conceding 119.5 points a game, one of those contests being a double-overtime thriller with Dallas. And the defense was still sleeping in the first game of the playoffs against Orlando, giving up 122 points as the Magic shot 49% for the game.
That was the wake-up call Giannis and the rest of the top-seeded Bucks needed – especially on defense. Milwaukee bottled up the Magic offense, allowing just 103.2 points in four straight victories for a 4-1 series win. The Bucks held Orlando to under 42% shooting in three of the four games.
Offensively, Antetkounmpo showed up big time, averaging 30.6 points to go with 16.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists. But there was no doubt he would – given he’s the MVP of the league. The question for the Bucks is what the second and third options do.
Khris Middleton averaged just 8.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in the first two games though he dished 5.0 assists. But he stepped in the final three games to the tune of 19.7 points and 9.3 rebounds. Brook Lopez slumped to 5 points and 4 rebounds in Game 1 but collected 15.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in the Bucks’ four straight wins.
With the offense – i.e. Giannis’ running mates – back on track, the Bucks will next look to down the Miami Heat. Milwaukee’s chances of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals will depend naturally on their defense.
by FIVE Magazine #171 – Playoff Preview: Milwaukee Bucks – Text: Jens Leutenecker